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5 Things About Me: Ecologist, Biologist, and grandfather Hans Bertsch

AAAS Member Hans Bertsch reading to his granddaughter Ivette, as he says,

Hans Bertsch, Ph.D.
Profesor Invitado, Instituto de Investigaciones Oceanológicas, Universidad Autónoma de Baja California
Profesor Invitado Huésped Visitante, Universidad Autónoma de Baja California Sur
Imperial Beach, California

Background: I study the ecology and biology of nudibranchs, which are shell-less gastropod mollusks and are often called sea slugs. I especially study their taxonomy and phylogenetic relationships, long-term community variations, feeding biogeography, and global patterns of distribution.  Although no stranger to the Caribbean and Central West Pacific, my main research area has been the water around Mexico's Baja California peninsula.

Question 1. Why did you become a researcher/scientist/teacher?
Mentors. My high school biology teacher, the Franciscan priest Anthony Baumann, taught me the importance of observation in the field and laboratory work, and respect for all life.  The malacologist Gale Sphon introduced me to nudibranchs and museum work. Dr. Rudolf Stohler, editor of The Veliger, personally typed a single-spaced page with nearly word-by-word corrections of my first scientific article. 

All three gentlemen showed me a love of science, how to do it right, the need to communicate the results, and that scientists must be teachers who encourage others in the search for understanding, appreciation, and conservation of earth's biodiversity.

Question 2.  What are you most proud of in your work?
Certainly pioneering opisthobranch discoveries in the Sea of Cortez.  My description of Chromodoris baumanni was the first use of scanning electron microscopy to illustrate the radula in naming a new species of nudibranch. 

Quite honestly, I am most proud of my students, of all ages, who experienced the "Wow!" and enthusiasm of science. I'm especially proud of those who continued with careers of research and teaching, emphasizing environmental education and our human role as members of the global ecosystem.

Question 3.  What fuels your passion for your work?
Nudibranchs are beautiful, interesting, and there is still a lot to learn about them.  They have also given me the excuse to make land detours on my way to the ocean, where I meet the adapted flora and fauna of multiple habitats, and the artifacts of different human cultures that show their changing relations to the environment.

But, most of all- when the mother gray whale brings her baby over to the fisherman's panga to look at us humans in its birthing lagoon, or my five-year-old granddaughter Ivette tells my bank manager that I study "Nudibranchs!"—my passion is truly ignited.

Question 4.  Share a lighthearted story about yourself.
My wife Rosa and little granddaughter Ivette were serving shore watch while I did a solo scuba research dive.  Carefully I explained, "The OK sign is hand touching head, forming a big O.  If you need help, wave your hands."  When I surfaced after the dive, I gave the OK sign to my shore team, and Ivette wildly waved her arms and screamed, "Tata!"  A safety problem?  No, just happy to see me come out of the ocean.

Question 5.  Read a book you are dying to tell your peers about?   Give us a brief summary and why you love it.
One book isn't enough. Two descriptions of land and sea explorations, spanning 250 years, put Baja California and the Sea of Cortez on the map correctly.

In 1940, John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts made a trip which they dignified by "calling it an expedition."  Sea of Cortez: A Leisurely Journal of Travel and Research (1941) told of their journey of discovery, with an annotated account of ecology and zoogeography of the 550+ invertebrate species they found. 

Favores Celestiales, the historical memoir by Eusebio Francisco Kino, S.J., records his three decades of exploration (1683-1711). Kino traversed some 20,000 miles, by horseback, throughout modern Baja California, Sonora, and Arizona.  He identified abalone shells given to him in the Sonora Desert as mollusks he knew only occurred naturally on the Pacific coast of California. This led him on multiple desert crossings beyond the Colorado and Gila Rivers and to the definitive mapping, in 1701, of California as a peninsula, not an island.

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Representative Image Caption
AAAS Member Hans Bertsch reading to his granddaughter Ivette, as he says, "Too often people descirbe the scientific method as: "Observation, Hypothesis, Experimentation, Theory," and forget the fifth and most important: Communication. Otherwise it is not science." (Photo: Hans Bertsch)
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